Sunday, 16 October 2016

#CritYourFaves ~ Unhealthy Romance: Respect & Communication 101

Welcome to #CritYourFaves!

This fun blog event is hosted by the lovely Aentee over at Read At Midnight and runs throughout the month of October. Here is the official event introduction from Aentee:

'Often, it’s too easy for us to turn a blind eye to the flaws in our favourite books or series. Although there is no such thing as an objectively perfect work of fiction, it’s difficult to confront issues in the things we love. While it may be uncomfortable, or at times painful, I think it’s essential to point out lack of representation or perpetuation of harmful tropes and themes – no matter what kind of media you consume.
The #CritYourFave blog event encourages you to post discussion throughout the month of October, analysing your favourite book or series through a more critical lens. It’s not my intention to tell you to stop the things you love, but to acknowledge any misgivings they may have. If this sounds like something you would like to do, then sign up here!'

Today I am going to be critiquing books with unhealthy romances.

In particular, I will be critiquing my favourite books that feature unhealthy romances where there is a major lack of respect and communication skills.

Why am I focusing on respect and communication skills, you may ask?

Because relationships are easily broken over a lack of communication, as well as over whether or not a significant other is treated with the respect they deserve. This leads to so many mixed messages for the reader.

I can't count the number of books I've read where the main characters have:
(A) Kept life-changing secrets from their significant other
(B) Not confessed their honest feelings
(C) Lied to their significant other
(D) Treated their significant other like dirt

...only to have a magic wand waved over everything at the end. Abracadabra! Suddenly all of that is forgotten and the main protagonist has to forgive and forget, nevermind their hurt feelings and broken heart.

And that's not ok. People - and characters - are allowed to be hurt by the actions of others. They're justified in their anger especially when they've been a part of an unhealthy romance.

Despite loving some of these books, authors, and characters to bits...this idea that it's ok to ice someone out, or lie to them, or treat them badly out of 'love' doesn't sit well with me. Not at all.

I dislike how common unhealthy romances have become in literature. Whether it's the obvious ones, like Fifty Shades of Grey, or the subtle ones, like the Maximum Ride series...unhealthy romances are not something we should be swooning over.

So without further ado, let's get critiquing!

**Before I begin: I know many of you love these books and these couples. This critique is my opinion and my opinion only - an opinion I have formed after much thought and analysis of these books. My critique doesn't mean I don't still like the books/their authors. I am simply providing my critique as a part of this blog event. There will also be minor spoilers throughout.**

I'll be focusing on three fave main books/series.

As much as it kills me to tear any favourite of mine apart (I have stocked up on tissue boxes and chocolate to help me survive!) I will be analysing the following books and their unhealthy romances:

(1) The Maximum Ride series by James Patterson ~ Max & Fang

(2) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë ~ Jane & Mr Rochester

(3) The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins ~ Katniss & Peeta

The Maximum Ride series was the staple of my highschool reading experiences and was one of the first books I ever read that featured some kind of YA romance.

And what a romance it was! Maximum 'Max' Ride and Fang were one of the original 'will-they-or-won't-they' YA couples, as James Patterson built up the tension between them book after book, without ever really providing us with a satisfying conclusion. But we didn't care! Because their strong friendship and shared badassery was everything.

That is...until books 7, 8, & 9 came along.

Just when we believed Max and Fang were gonna get their happily ever after...*spoiler alert* Fang ditches their group and hooks up with Max's clone.

*crickets chirp*
*jaws drop*
*Fang posters are ripped to shreds*

Nope you didn't read that incorrectly. Fang builds a relationship with Max, tells her he chooses her, leaves her, and decides to hook up with her identical clone. Because that is not creepy at all.

But it's not the creepy clone stuff that I'm calling out today.

No, that's not even the part I'm most upset about. I'm most upset with how both Fang and Max are indecisive and in the process hurt both other people and one another.

Fang's biggest offence: After telling Max he'd be with her Fang leaves her and hooks up with her clone. And when the clone *spoiler alert* dies...he returns to Max and tries to hook up with her.

Max's biggest offence: When Fang leaves Max dives into a relationship with Dylan despite the fact she's not over Fang, and then ditches Dylan for Fang upon Fang's return.

Noticing a trend here?

Both Dylan and Maya (Max's clone) are treated badly. They're tossed aside in a second or used as a convenient rebound. They're involved in unhealthy romances with two people who are not 110% committed.

This unhealthy relationship between Max and Fang stems from their inability to communicate and to respect the person they're with. Like a seesaw of emotional instability, they 'wrecking ball' their way through relationships regardless of anybody's feelings but their own.

Does Max lead Dylan on? Yep. Does Fang lead Maya on? Yep. Do Max and Fang lead one another on? You bet.

And looking back on it now I feel a little queasy at the thought that I shipped and kinda still ship lol these two together. Despite their friendship...despite the shared experiences...they were toxic as a couple. Nothing good happened when they were together. They never spent time getting to know one another. There was no true respect there.

If I could change one thing about their relationship?

Easy - I'd have them sit down for a heartfelt discussion. I don't care if it took hours - days even! But I think they needed to discuss the heavy stuff and the stuff that came between them...especially before jumping headfirst back into a relationship that was never fully formed.

As fun as couples like Max and Fang may seem - and as awwwww-worthy as it is when they find their way back to one another - it's interesting to see how their relationship doesn't have the base of respect and communication needed to pass the test of time. It was based purely on strong emotions and sharing life-or-death experiences.

Jane Eyre is a romance classic.

Who doesn't adore the tale of the orphaned Jane Eyre, who eventually takes on the role of governess in the household of the brooding Mr Rochester?! I will admit to having swooned over their romance a time or two or five or a thousand...!

There was so much to love about this couple. The growing affection and friendship between them, Jane's realisation of her feelings...and Mr Rochester finally confessing his love for Jane and asking her to marry him, are just some of the highlights.

But then weddings bells turned to warning bells.

*Spoiler alert* The wedding doesn't go to plan. Just as Mr Rochester and Jane are about to become man and wife and as you the reader are weeping tears of joy a man walks into the church with some heart wrenching news.

Mr Rochester can't marry Jane because he is already married.

And not just married but to a lady who has literally been living in the house the entire time and nearly killed Jane!

It was easy to simply sweep this little flaw under the rug.

Because Mr Rochester explained himself so emotionally and eloquently, painting a tale about a young man who dreamed of wonderful wife and a great marriage - only to have been deceived by his wife's family as to her mental health. He kept her up in the attic 'for her own good', keeping her from harming herself and others. you think about it...that still doesn't excuse almost marrying Jane!!

Not once did he tell her anything. In fact, he lied to her on multiple occasions even when her own safety was at risk. He then was prepared to go through with a wedding that would never have been legal or built on truth and trust.

True, Jane realises this too.

And she leaves to sort out her head and her heart. But she returns to see Mr Rochester...and *spoiler alert* surprise surprise the annoying mentally unstable wife of his is conveniently dead so now they can totally be together if she can find it within herself to forgive him. To make it easier, he's now almost fully blind, igniting her compassion once more.

There is something a little unnerving about this couple.

I understand that forgiveness is a huge part of any relationship - I'm not saying Jane should have stayed mad at Mr Rochester forever, or that it wasn't ok for her to be with him after the passing of his wife.

But I just find it so horrible that a man could hide such a huge part of his life from a woman he supposedly 'loves'. Jane trusted Mr Rochester with her past, her heart - and was prepared to trust him to be by her side forever. She gave and gave and gave.

Mr Rochester, however, rarely reciprocated during their relationship. He was the one who paraded women about the house that he was hoping may be 'potential brides' - and even if he didn't view them as that he gave Jane that impression. He lied to her, put her life in danger, and as much as he cared for his wife he mistreated her too and viewed her mental health issues as a burden he had to carry.

I don't know if I like the kind of man who could lock one wife in the attic whilst looking for another.

If I could change one thing about their relationship?

Communication! Communication! Communication!

He shouldn't have kept secrets from the woman he loved. Because if you truly love someone you'd look beyond your selfish desires and try to do what is right for their happiness.

The Girl on Fire and the Boy with the Bread.

The perfect pair to make toast (please forgive that extremely poor attempt at humour lol!). This couple from The Hunger Games series was proof that the YA girl doesn't always have to end up with the rugged and brooding 'bad boy' but like we all shipped Katniss with Gale at one point because helloooooo Liam Hemsworth! 

I loved how Peeta supported Katniss throughout the trilogy, especially during some extremely traumatising and difficult times. But there was always one thought hovering at the back of mind.

Was it real?

*Spoiler alert* The finale certainly would certainly like for us to believe so. From Finnick confirming the authenticity of Katniss' feelings for Peeta, and Katniss sticking by Peeta through his brainwashed phase, to Katniss ultimately choosing Peeta over Gale...all the signs point to Katniss and Peeta's romance having moved from 'for the Games' to 'for real'.

But what about Katniss?

I have few doubts when it comes to the authenticity of Peeta's love for Katniss. But when it comes to Katniss a few doubts spring to mind:
(A) Is her 'love' for Peeta a result of faking it for the Games?
(B) Does she really love him or does he simply represent the good/the familiar?

Because let's be honest - Katniss never saw Peeta as love interest until they were thrown together for the Games. They were forced into life-or-death situations, where emotions were heightened and stakes were raised. As Katniss herself admitted, during the Games she used their 'relationship' to survive as well as partially for comfort.

One-sided relationships aren't really fair to anyone.

True, they make for great love triangles and YA drama. But do we ever stop and consider how horrible they actually are? I mean, just look at the seesaw-esque nature of The Hunger Games series' romance(s):
  • Katniss used Peeta in Book #1.
  • She clearly and deliberately chose Gale in Book #2, before once again relying on her Games romance with Peeta for safety.
  • And then in Book #3 she also keeps a strong relationship with Gale...whilst also pining for Peeta and then ultimately choosing Peeta.

This love triangle (and within that the romance between Katniss and Peeta) was unhealthy from the very start. With Peeta and Gale both vying for the love of a girl who can't make up her mind or communicate her wants and's just messy. Even Gale gets a little fed up with it towards the end.

If I could change one thing about their relationship?

I would force Katniss (either through bribery or by trident point!) to make a choice and stick with it from the start! Or, at least, to commit to a single relationship at a time instead of trying to navigate two romances at the same time and hurting both guys in the process.

Now that I've highlighted some of the holes in these ships...,fl_progressive,q_80,w_636/kasu6wzdxue63hamuym9.gif

...let me know which literary couples you think were involved in unhealthy romances!


  1. You make great points about unhealthy relationships, the fact that they are based on characters and can also happen to real life people and how others neglect each other, in and out of relationships.

    Communication and respect are one of the biggest factors when it comes to healthy non-toxic relationships and people should take that seriously even if they are writing or reading about fictional characters.

    1. Thank you so much! And I agree - I know lots of people will say "It's fiction so who cares?" But it's important to remember that real people are reading these books and they're being produced and sold in the real world. Books should feature more non-toxic relationships and focus on emphasising the need for communication and respect between people :)


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